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Hot Love for Steamed Cakes

In the land of the rising sun, birth rates have been falling for years, despite various government incentives and studies aimed at solving the problem.

Additionally, a recent study by Recruit showed that 34.1% of Japanese under the age of fifty had never dated seriously, and that many are becoming further removed from romantic relationships.

However, there is proof that although the sum of young people currently in love is shrinking, numbers of those still hoping to be in love may not have changed. One ingredient of that hope is found in the success of the Abema TV show, “I Fell in Love with you Today”. The romantic Japanese television program featuring teenagers and their dating issues has been viewed over 59 seasons. This alone provides a spark to light the fire of love’s rebirth.

Steamed cakes to heat things up

Seizing this TV show’s momentum, Kimuraya, a Japanese bakery with 155 years of history, teamed up with NEC - itself boasting 125 years of history - to conjure up confections which convey love’s sensations. This collaboration served as a bid to draw this nation’s youth back to romance; given NEC’s successful record of developing specialized food products - including pudding and craft beer - with the assistance of AI.

Specifically, they aimed to concoct small cakes containing new combinations of ingredients aimed at producing the sensations of love. Steamed cakes (called “mushipan,” in Japanese) were then deemed the most efficient format; based on ingredients chosen through AI technology.

To conquer this herculean task, NEC, Kimuraya, and ABEMA, divvied up duties according to their strengths. ABEMA provided dialog from three seasons of their hit TV series. NEC then analyzed data from those scripts, using its proprietary AI technologies. And, finally Kimuraya employed the ensuing data which led them to perfect ingredients for their new creations.

AI tools employed by NEC on this project possess high accuracy. One of those applied to this task was “NEC Enhanced Speech Analysis” which utilizes speech recognition technology belonging to NEC’s AI technology’s group “NEC the WISE”. Izumi Kuwata, NEC’s data scientist, revealed, “It is an innovative SaaS service that supports customers’ DX, using speech recognition technology that far exceeds conventional standards. Its strength is found in recognizing free conversations such as those in online meetings”. In this project, it was used to recognize ABEMA’s conversation data. Another of NEC’s proprietary technologies applied to this project was NEC Data Enrichment. In the context of this project, it analyzed words in the loving interactions found in the TV show’s scripts, and found the emotional trends in each scene; then, attributed number values to the words reflecting the strongest emotions.

Similarly, some 35,000 songs containing 183 types of fruits and sweets were analyzed so that a list of the top 50 foods expressing love’s emotions could be drafted for Kimuraya to select which tastes would suit each other best, in combinations which expressed love as a taste. Literally completing the package, NEC’s Large Language Model (LLM) - an AI Technology - helped develop product names and descriptions to be printed on the packaging.

The aforementioned Ms. Kuwata gushed with love for the process undertaken. “I enjoyed the creative work, which is something I don’t usually get to experience. By focusing on lyrics containing emotions and ingredients, we were able to link emotions and taste.”

The name of the resulting five steamed cakes - dubbed “Ren AI Pan” (for “falling in love breads,” in Japanese) plays on the Japanese phrase “Ren ai” for falling in love, and the AI of “artificial intelligence”; the Japanese character for “love” (愛) is read as “AI,” phonetically.  Listed in order of their launch dates, they are #05 “Musubare ru ryoomoi” (Mutual Love), #04 “Namida no shitsuren” (Broken heart), #03 “Yakimochi” (Jealousy), #02 “Hajimete no deto” (Date), and #01 “Unmei no deai” (Fateful Encounter).

 “Ren AI Pan” is available at selected supermarkets around the Kanto area, as well as from online stores.

Number five and four were released to supermarkets around the Kanto area, as well as to online stores, from February 1st, 2024. And, the other three will be treated to staggered releases; with Jealousy on March 1st. Then, both Date and First Encounter will reach your taste buds on April 1st.

Having your cake and eating it too

Students who sampled these confections joyously endorsed Kimuraya’s triumph.

A young female high school student piped in cheerfully, “I’ve never been in love, but the sweet taste (of Ren AI Pan) makes me want to fall in love!”.

Another reflected carefully, “At first, I couldn’t imagine what it would taste like since it was so colorful, but when I actually tried it, it was very sweet and delicious. I haven’t had a boyfriend yet, but as I listened to my favorite music and ate (Ren AI Pan), I thought it would be great if we could have a wonderful love life”.

All participating students found it hard to choose a favorite Ren AI Pan, due to strong emotional reactions to most every one. However, Ms. Kuwata - a young twenty-something herself - eagerly explained the fervor behind her top pick.

“It’s got to be #05 “Musubare ru ryoomoi” (mutual love)” because the name "ryoomoi" symbolizes love the most. And, we felt that the taste and the color best expressed it!”.

A winning streak’s a piece of cake

Hitting its latest home run in the generation of new food products through its Ren AI Pan - the most recent of its F&B-company collaborations - NEC now strides forward to new fields of innovation, beyond comestible goods; with yet-to-be announced ambitions, and eyes peeled for exciting new collaborations.

The influence of AI speech analysis is set to swiftly spread throughout our lives across a span of applications; to enhance online meetings, in the creation of inspection reports from voice transcripts, analysis of customer feedback, etc.

With NEC marrying its track record as a pioneer of innovation to the nature of AI’s untapped potential, we will boldly march toward orchestrating a brighter world by creating value through varied means - and collaborations - hitherto undreamed-of.

March 18, 2024